A little over a month ago, I moved to Kaduna state for the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship, a leadership development programme for young Nigerians. Although I had been informed that the fellowship year could get busy and leave me only a little time for fun, I was determined to maximise whatever time I had.
So, when a colleague informed me about the Kaduna Book and Arts Festival (KABAFEST), I made a decision immediately. For me, as long as the event had to do with books, I was interested. I didn’t even think about what a book festival in Kaduna would look like.
After a 2-year hiatus, the fourth edition of KABAFEST — a four-day programme of art exhibitions, booklogues, panel discussions, poetry performances, film screenings, and food-tasting, recently held, and I would describe the event as phenomenal.
Even though I was tired from the day’s work, the excitement about the book festival gave me the needed strength for the short trip to the venue. While I was not present for all the sessions, the ones I attended were enough to make a lasting impression.
Let me take you through the things and moments that stood out for me:
Remember I said I didn’t have any expectations, so, I didn’t think too much of the crowd I saw on the first day. The hall was packed full of people, and I thought it was just because Governor Nasir El-Rufa’i was present.
The following days, however, proved that I was wrong. Until the last day of the event, the hall was always packed full, leaving no space for those that came late. In fact, if you left your seat unattended for more than five minutes, you might come back to see it had been occupied.
The attendance proved to me that people in the North have similar interest in books like those from other parts of Nigeria.
It is widely known that Northern people are more conservative than those from other parts of the country, hence, they avoid topics deemed ‘inappropriate’ for public discourse. It was, however, a different case at this event.
Topics on sex, kayanmata, abortion, among others, were freely discussed.
In fact, while one of the participants was asking a question about sex, he tried to avoid saying the word but a guest speaker, Prof. Audee T. Giwa, whose book was being discussed told him not to be shy.
The professor whose book also touched on the topic of abortion said:
“We are so hypocritical about abortion in the North, no one talks about it. Meanwhile, we have parents supporting their children to abortion to avoid disgrace.”
E shock me o!
Bold, outspoken women
Over the years, news stories have painted northern women as victims of the cultural system but what I saw in the room on the last day of the event did not look like the young women of this generation were interested in maintaining the statusquo.
“These ladies are bold and would demand what they want,” I told a colleague during Mona Eltahawy’s session.
Eltahawy’s session was about her book, The Seven Necessary Sin For Women And Girls, and the author who is known for her hatred for patriarchy, strongly reiterated her plans to destroy it. This did not go down well with the men in the room, and they did not fail to express their opinions.
The author’s session was so intense, my colleague feared things might get out of hand. That, however, did not stop the women from taking the mic and tackling the men, telling them it was high time the narrative changed, and women’s rights were respected.
Big Energy Ladipoe
The programme was supposed to end at 8pm but at some minutes to 8, I was surprised to see participants eagerly waiting to see singer Ladipoe perform. I mean, I would not have been surprised if Davido, Wizkid, or any other popular artiste got that reaction but for Ladipoe, I was pleasantly surprised.
Sola, the Lagosian
It was then I realised that a lot of people like me, who were born and bred in Lagos, and barely travelled to other parts of the country, know nothing about places like Kaduna.
A typical Lagosian believes the city is where major fun and creative activities happen. For many of us, life begins and ends in Lagos.
But would you blame us? It doesn’t help that news from Kaduna is more about insecurity than entertainment and we rely solely on what the media tells us about the state.
I think it’s unfair that the North is popular for insecurity and barely known for other things like their culture, food, the people, music, or their contribution to society.
It’s high time the North worked on rebranding itself and showing the rest of Nigeria who they are as their identity seems to have been submerged by insecurity issues.
Like this guest speaker, Uchenna Emelife, I look forward to a time when cultural books and arts festivals in Northern Nigeria are no longer a thing of surprise, when Kaduna is known as a beautiful and serene place to live, for the cheap foodstuff, and handsome men.
Thank you for coming this far. I hope you enjoyed reading. Please drop your comments, I would love to read them. I urge you to come with me on my journey as a Kashim Ibrahim Fellow in Kaduna.